Dealing with the phenomenon of modernity has been a tricky affair and poses a grave question to all the traditional cultures. In fact current crisis in the Muslim world is primarily attributable to problematic response to this question.
Modernity means many things with divergent constructions of it. However what suffices here to note is that it is rejection of fundamentalist ideologies of all sorts. This is especially true about its new incarnation- the postmodernity. It is synonymous with relentless questioning. The great implication of Enlightenment Project for the Western world has been keeping the critical spirit alive and subjecting everything to rational inquiry.
Modern man asks questions. Nothing can silence him. He can’t relinquish his hard won freedom to question. However certain contradictions in the modernity project led to current age of postmodernity that is characterized by loss of faith in big claims made by previous ideologues of science and exoteric religion or social and political ideologies like Marxism. It preserves right to doubt, to say, with Beckett, perhaps or on the contrary when any opinion is imposed on it. None can claim to represent God or speak with arrogance on questions divine in the postmodern world. Postmodern world is more humble, more open to other marginilized voices. It has no heroes but exposes violence in often advocated moral ideals, especially when they become absolutist or dogmatic. The postmodern world is not rationalist in the way prophets of modernity advocated. Modernity embarked on ruthless critique of tradition but postmodernity is allowing the marginilized traditional voice of faith, of alternative sciences, of tribal worldview, of archaic wisdom, to express itself.
Kashmiri culture is fortunately better positioned to face the question of modernity and appropriate the postmodern mood because it was never fundamentalist. Inheriting Persian mystic sensibility and rich diversity of Buddhist-Saivist-Islamic heritage and more aesthetically than cognitively oriented, ours has been a more nuanced, more open, more tolerant culture. As a Hafiz or a Khayam or an Ibn Arabi would appropriate the cultural or religious other based on more fluid mystic sensibility, a Kashmiri philosopher or mystic who shares the mystic’s language of the Self too would be comfortable with the divergent voices asking to be heard in a world where justice is never done or truth has no copyrighted formulation. Although our Sufi poets provide us with basic armoury for engaging with certain challenges in the postmodern world, we need a more nuanced modern or postmodern appropriations of the mystical as we see in such poets and critics as Rehman Rahi. We have amongst more recent generation of poets some noteworthy figures who can help us to articulate our predicament and move forward. One such remarkable figure is Prof. Ayaz Nazki.
Many Kashmiri poets have only heard of postmodernity. Few know it inside out. And fewer have responded to it or appropriated it in poetry attempting to marry the tradition they have inherited with new mood and have done this without much formal readings of it. Nazki belongs to the last group.
We have few poets who are also well read and equally capable researchers and could write columns, novels, travelogues and cultural history. We have very few poets who write equally well in both Kashmiri and Urdu. Nazki is amongst these few.
Ayaz has been able to carve his own distinctive niche (“Ayaz qadri khud bishinaas”) that may be called postmodern and traditional at the same time without being fully identifiable with either. His Urdu poetry has been favourably reviewed but I think his Kashmiri poetry is no less interesting. I offer some general comments on his work.
Ayaz is an author of an unpublished novel that deserved to be published long back as it is the first of its kind successfully deploying the technique of magic realism that made Marquis so charming and world famous and that was later appropriated by postmodernists dares to use history as metaphor or recreates a history of Kashmir as none has attempted to recreate in a symbolic space.
What makes him stand out is iconic postmodern style. Shaam sae pahalae is a postmodern image that forms the title of his Urdu collection. His columns are most characteristically sceptical analyses of current discourses. He deploys wit and humour to question what is sold in the marketplace.
Here is a sample of postmodern Kashmiri poetry.
Wuddi chus zalaan chain navaey, mushkin adfar dourer choan
Naer wahraavith praran oas, kemres ander dourer choan
Soantes herdes kun anhaar, preth kaenh menzer dourer choan
Ayaz, as a postmodern poet, has been living and negotiating conflicting identities and spaces. Quite conscious of his own failings, he is convinced that none is a moral-intellectual hero around to deserve the fate of Socrates. Yaeti ti kus oas thakidar pazruk, gov apuz az ti kamyab, mae kya (Who is the guardian of truth here? Truth has been defeated again, what can I do?) He is quite conscious of the trap of illusions like those of self, intellectuality. Ayaz saebin laash laibikh, paiy cha si kem ek daer moar. (Ayaz’s corpse has been found, who knows which sect killed him?) Longing for the ideals of Sufism and even didactically batting for them he finds this path difficult in practice.
Lucid, delightful, witty, self-reflexive, dexterous about form, Ayaz gives voice to paradoxes and contradiction that living in Kashmir and being a poet of far off things embody. Ayaz gives voice to this age that has practically though not theoretically lost convictions – moral, intellectual and political. Chelha wudwun janawaar, chelha chus ma chelnes waar, baend gov reth tae tham-i-hawa, shah khaarun gae kreeth katha. I wonder, how he manages to be successful in the world where “worldly wisdom” is required.
Ayaz’s idea of Self is both postmodern and mystical: Brem mensaewith, ham phutravith, aabes wouth, naeb nishaani yi naav chae yeeraan, allah hu.( Transcending ego, erasing all signs of identity, the boat of the self is drowning, That alone is true, Allah hu).
He has some beautiful Sufi poems. He is not known to be a Sufi poet though but does share Sufi sensibility. Asi wuch kem kem sir asrar. (What secrets have been vouchsafed to us). Again, he has a postmodern caveat: he acknowledges it is a dream experience only.
The fact that Ayaz succeeds best as a poet of ghazals perhaps again illustrates both his eastern sensibility and postmodern orientation that assimilate polar extremes of experience, all kinds of little stories, questions and “contradictions.” He has no self to sell any constructed grand story or ideology. For him life is best approached in aesthetic terms, again something that allies him with both mystics and postmodernists.
Seeking in art or creative act an anchor to move or dissolve existential questions, Ayaz has built beautiful castles of art in such wonderful poems as “Marmar Geet.” In postmodern times it is art that offers for many less problematic language to live by.